The Wall Street crash of October 1929 heralded a worldwide depression that saw one in three Australian breadwinners unemployed. In what became known as the Great Depression, hunger was commonplace, people ate bread and dripping or bread with a little milk and sugar. Soup kitchens were set up to feed the starving and sustenance payments, “the susso”, were made in the form of foods such as bread and potatoes.
The great depression hit city workers in particular, with many factories closing down and whole industries destroyed. The unemployment rate in Australia rose to 30% in 1931-32. Many people moved to country areas, working as unpaid labour in return for housing and the chance to grow their own food.
During the depression years, Australia’s rabbit plague proved a boon, with “underground mutton” replacing other meats on many tables. As a result, in later years, many people refused to eat rabbit because of its association with hard times.
Commodity prices fell during the great depression, with a drastic effect on Australian agriculture. Government assistance helped to support wheat farmers until prices rose again in 1935-36. At this time Australia produced 3-4% of the world’s wheat, but it accounted for 18% of total world exports.